Casting Lots

Casting Lots is an excellent book. Rabbi Susan Silverman is a great writer!

In a way, I feel like “I shouldn’t sound so surprised!”

But I’m reminded of the way I felt the first time I heard my daughter Lizzy singing from a stage. I knew she could sing, all my kids sang with me around the piano from when they were little. We were a little surprised when she got into a competitive school for the arts in the music track as a singer, but when she got on stage and opened her mouth and sounded like she was channeling Norah Jones, her mother and my mouths both dropped in surprise.

I’ve known Susan for several years. I knew she was working on this book project for a long time. I figured she could write. But the book is really good!

Casting Lots is a celebration of family. It’s a remarkable family, and the story is very well told. In one generation the family has actors, writers, a famous comedian and a famous rabbi (noted as one of the top ten sexiest rabbis last year). I don’t know what the next generation will grow up to be, but it’ll be great to watch. Here’s a hint from the book. Susan took her oldest daughter, Aliza, in for some sort of evaluation, and the following ensued:

“Okay, Aliza,” said the tester. “What does a little girl like to do with her mommy?”

Aliza, unperturbed by her poor performance, looked the woman in the eye and happily said, “Save the people in Bosnia?”

Susan shares the trials and tribulations of raising five kids (they “grow girls” and “import boys”) with the self-deprecating humor and wit of Anne Lamott, but with Torah as the backdrop and source of religious depth.

I didn’t need to read this book to know that Susan Silverman is funny, engaging, smart, caring, and dedicated to making the world a better place. But I did need to read the book to know what an excellent writer she is with an eye for detail. When she gets back from her book tour I mean to ask her “did you really remember all that stuff?” I can’t remember what color my kids’ rooms are currently painted, let alone the decorating scheme from two houses ago. And how that decorating scheme impacted the kids. But maybe that’s a guy thing.

Susan seems to have the intense paranoia of a “helicopter parent” without actually doing the hovering – she’s smart enough to give the children space, as she describes in this interaction with her son Adar:

I needed to back off and make room for Adar to struggle without my demanding clean answers. In the act of creation, say the mystics, God draws inward, making a void in which the world can become. Sometimes retreat is an act of love.

The book is very honest, almost like a reality TV show with cameras EVERYWHERE. But even when she talks about poop, breasts, and breakdowns, you’re never left feeling “eww…TMI…” Everything is told with love and humor.

One of Susan’s goals for the book is to encourage international adoption: something she explicitly discusses in an addendum to the story. It’s effective: I have five wonderful daughters, but never did get that boy. If I were younger, reading this book would have encouraged me to do what they did, and “import” one. Fortunately, I now have grandsons for getting that “boy fix.”

You don’t have to be a parent or interested in adoption to enjoy this book. It’s a compelling read: I read 2/3 of it one sitting and finished it the next day.

For more information on adoption, check out her website,

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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